Manheim Township's players lowered their heads and leaned into the moment Thursday night in the Lancaster-Lebanon League boys soccer championship game against McCaskey, gritting their teeth through relentless crosswind and through relentless pressure from a revived Red Tornado program.
At the end of 80 minutes of play, when center-back Liam Wright booted the ball to safety, the gritted teeth turned to smiles. The Blue Streaks hugged and hopped. They lifted their heads and lifted the L-L League trophy for the first time in a 10 years with a 3-2 decision at Warwick.
"These guys promised me, right from the beginning of the year," Manheim Township coach Kevin Baker said, "that they would be a resilient team. They told me it didn't matter what the scoreline said or what was going on. They were going to fight. It was really cool because tonight was one of those nights, again, where we had to fight, and they stepped up, and it was awesome."
Boys Soccer FINAL: Manheim Township holds off McCaskey, 3-2, for the Lancaster-Lebanon League title. pic.twitter.com/Ed9qDCiWx1— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) October 17, 2019
Colton Pierson scored a pair of goals for the Blue Streaks (14-3-1). His second of the night broke a 2-2 tie with 26:13 left, as he collected the ball that bounced off a defender and flicked it past goalkeeper Grady Bachman (three saves).
"He had a great game," Baker said of Pierson. "He's one of those players where, every time we play, other teams have to pay attention to him. I thought tonight, he just showed what type of player he was where he controlled large chunks of the game."
The teams had taken turns erasing one-goal deficits. Pierson's first goal erased a 1-0 McCaskey lead built by a Peter Chol header. When Manheim Township's Andrew Sheehan buried a chance off a Pierson throw-in to give the Blue Streaks a 2-1 lead in the 45th minute, Sam Hershey answered for the Red Tornado (18-3-0) with a long-range shot less than two minutes later.
"I'm just proud of my guys," said McCaskey coach Adam Wood. "There's been no quit all season."
When Pierson put his team up 3-2, the Blue Streaks' knuckles turned white.
"We knew they had athletes," Baker said of the Red Tornado. "They had a really strong offense. They had guys who can score. When you're in that situation, they're going to throw everything at us."
GOAL, Manheim Township. Colton Pierson nets his second of the game to put the Bkue streaks up 3-2 on McCaskey at 53:47. pic.twitter.com/XKLTQGurVI— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) October 17, 2019
For the final 15 minutes, McCaskey laid siege to the Manheim Township end, generating four corner kicks. The Blue Streaks' back line, anchored by Wright and Shane Mundorf, limited the chances.
"Township's backs were strong," Wood said. "There were no second chances, and their goalie is a phenomenal player."
The goalie, Quinn McCarty, made six total saves. In the final minute, McCaskey's Kameron Yang laced a shot into the crosswind, toward the upper part of the net.
"I wanted to be there for my teammates," said McCarty, a junior. "They were there all night for me when I made two mistakes."
There would be no third mistake. McCarty reached up, time his jump, and deflected the shot away with his fingertips.
"It was like a flash," he said. "I just reacted. Luckily, I got there."
Manheim Township goalkeeper Quinn McCarty preserved the team's league-championship victory with this stop on a shot from McCaskey's Kameron Yang in the final minute. pic.twitter.com/zHebv1Y4mD— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) October 17, 2019
The Blue Streaks cleared away the ensuing corner kick. Wright sent the ball sailing and then celebrated with his teammates as time expired.
"It's very scary," Pierson said of the frantic final moments. "We've done it a couple games. We did it last game, but we're getting better at handling it, and our defense is locking it down."
McCaskey, in the midst of a resurgent season, had won its previous 14 games and 18 games overall. The program had won 16 games total in the previous three years.
"I don't even know that it's sunk in, even now," Wood said. "It's one of those things we're going to look back on in time and say it was a great run. We're in the moment now, and obviously, it stings tonight, but hopefully we can always look back with pride on this. This has been a great run, one of the better ones in McCaskey history."
The respective runs for the Red Tornado and the Blue Streaks, are set to continue with the District Three Class 4A playoffs set to begin Tuesday.